Brown, Pletcher Set to Battle for Saratoga Title… Again

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Todd Pletcher | Coglianese

By Bill Finley

Todd Pletcher says he’s the underdog when it comes to winning this year’s Saratoga training title. Pletcher won last year’s Saratoga crown, as well a record 13 Saratoga titles, which would seem to make him the worst underdog this side of the Golden State Warriors. But he may just have a point.

Pletcher and rival Chad Brown have finished first and second at each of the last six Saratoga meets and though Pletcher prevailed in 2017, Brown snapped his six-year winning streak in 2016. Through the first 16 days of the meet, Brown leads Pletcher by a 18-10 score in the wins column. But more importantly, Brown trounced Pletcher at the Belmont spring meet, winning 34 races to 18 for his rival. Not only is his stable stocked with numbers and talent, he is the one with the momentum.

“If there were a wagering line on it, we certainly wouldn’t be the favorite,” Pletcher said. “I think based on the strength of Chad’s stable coming into the meet, I would have to make him the favorite.”

No matter how it turns out, it figures to be another spirited race. Last year, Pletcher won the title on the closing day, by a 40-39 margin. A year earlier, Brown beat Pletcher and also won 40 races. With the 40 wins, the two are tied for the record for most winners at the meet by a trainer.

When it comes to candidates for the title, there is Pletcher and Brown and no one else, although Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen has enjoyed a stellar beginning to the meet despite having less firepower, notching 11 wins from his first 36 starters (Brown and Pletcher had 68 and 53 starters, respectively, at the same juncture).

Pletcher and Brown battle each other not just at Saratoga, but at Belmont, Gulfstream, in the Triple Crown events and the Breeders’ Cup and for Eclipse Awards. Those are the type of rivalries that can get cutthroat and turn the combatants into enemies. While Pletcher and Brown may not exactly hang out after the races having a beer together, they express a genuine level of respect for one another. It seems they see a little bit of themselves in their rival.

“I have a very professional relationship with Todd,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of mutual respect there and I admire him in many ways–his work ethic, his record, his talent training horses. He’s just a great trainer, one of the all time greats. He’s a great competitor and he’s a real good sportsman.”

Said Pletcher: “We have a friendly relationship. I think there’s a mutual respect for each other. He does a terrific job and he’s got a great staff. His horses always come to the paddock well prepared and looking good and they obviously perform well. When you have the size of the stables that we have, you appreciate how hard it is, how much work it takes to manage and oversee that type of operation. I think we can both relate to each other in that regard.”

Last year’s race came down to the final day. Both won a race, but Brown failed to pull even when his last starter of the meet, Style Drift (English Channel), settled for third.

“I guess it’s a little more exciting when it’s close,” Pletcher said. “Ideally, you’d like to win it by a more comfortable margin so you don’t have to sweat it out at the end, but yes, the way it went down last year does make it more fun and makes every single race a little more important.”

“Yeah, because we had such a great meet,” Brown said when asked if his one-race loss to Pletcher last year stung. “You want to end up on top. But it didn’t take anything away from our meet. We won so many races, particularly a bunch of stakes races.

Pletcher’s strength is his 2-year-olds. Brown’s is his grass horses. If it’s a rainy meet and a lot of races come off the grass, the edge goes to Pletcher. If Pletcher’s 2-year-olds don’t excel and win a bunch of races, the edge goes to Brown.

“The turf has always been the center piece of what we’re trying to do here, and a lot of rain would really hurt us,” Brown said. “With that said, we’re always trying to improve in some areas. A goal of ours has always been to win more 2-year-old races and we’ve also recruited a lot more dirt horses over the last couple of years. So, hopefully, we’ll start to win more races in those divisions, as well as maintaining our strong presence on the turf.”

Brown added, “We’ve been given an opportunity with some promising 2-year-old dirt prospects, both male and female, and as the meet goes on we’ll debut more of those horses and, hopefully, a few stars will emerge.”

When it comes to the meet’s signature race, the GI Travers S., Brown also appears to have the edge over Pletcher. He’ll have the likely favorite in GI Betfair.com Haskell Invitational S. winner Good Magic and another strong contender in GI Belmont S. runner-up Gronkowski (Lonhro {Aus}). Pletcher’s Travers hopes took a hit when his top active 3-year-old Vino Rosso (Curlin) was third in the GII Jim Dandy S. as the favorite.

Brown has never won the Travers, while Pletcher has won the race twice. So winning a Travers is a major goal for Brown. And both admit they’d like to snap the 40-40 tie for most wins at a Saratoga meet.

After that, neither one has much else to prove at Saratoga. Pletcher and Brown dominate, but who will come out on top in 2018? As usual, it’s a match race.

 

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